Monday, 6 April 2009

His Name Is...Savage!

His Name Is... Savage! was first released in 1968 by Adventure House Press, then reprinted in 1982 by Fantagraphics. It was Gil Kane's first attempt to break out of mainstream comics, and can lay claim to being one of the first ( short ) graphic novels, predating even Will Eisner's A Contract With God.

Gil had just come off of an aborted attempt by Jim Warren to publish a teen-age humour book, when he began working towards publishing his own material. Unfortunately, as great as Savage is, it was a project more or less doomed from the start. As Gil revealed in an interview with Gary Groth in 1981: " I didn't realize how the odds were stacked against me and that there wasn't any possibility of my succeeding...There were individuals who were involved with The (Comics) Code who decided to act in order to suppress publication of the magazine. "
Although Kane had a contract for three issues of Savage, it all fell away due to the book not reaching the newstands in sufficient numbers to turn a profit. Out of 200,000 copies printed, only 20,000 actually hit the stores.
Hopefully, the Fantagraphics reprint sold more. Here's the cover, with Gil cameoing as one of the gunmen!

Savage was plotted by Gil, then scripted by Archie Goodwin from Kane's breakdown's, and it's a dense style of writing, more akin to an illustrated novel than a regular comic book. Kane was a fan of Al Feldstein's work at EC, and liked the idea of Savage being as narration/caption heavy as Tales From The Crypt or Weird Science. Unfortunately, it makes the book more than a tad unbalanced and overwritten.

His Name Is...Savage! is a hardboiled spy thriller in the pulp tradition; James Bond as written by Mickey Spillane. Savage is a mercenary sprung from jail by the mysterious government organization known as The Committee. Almost immediately on meeting our anti-hero, we see how he got his name.

Gil envisioned Savage as a sort of modern-day Conan. " I had this image of a guy walking on a city street; People would give way because there was something threatening and malignant (about him) that people just melted aside. That's the kind of quality I wanted to generate, just a frightening person. "

The Committee want Savage to take out his C.O. from his merc days, the psychotic cyborg General Simon Mace. Mace has a frankly bizarre plan to assassinate The President on behalf of his Red Chinese employers, and Savage has only a certain amount of time to locate and stop his ex-friend.

Savage is a fantastic character; Mean, brutal, merciless, he works for The Committee basically because they allow him to do the kind of work he enjoys. The only time he shows even a trace of humanity is when he meets up again with lost love ( and daughter of his arch enemy ) Sheila Mace, in one of the book's few quiet moments.

Although the story, and Mace's plan, is slightly implausible, and Archie's writing uncharacteristically full of purple prose, the plot isn't really the point. As Savage goes from fights to escapes to chases, all leading up to the final, brutal confrontation with Mace, what the book's really about becomes clear. This is a comic about the catharsis of fictional violence, about each scene being set up for the reader to expect, and desire, the violence. Gil again: " I did it...when Savage had been deliberately goaded beyond endurance, so he responded like a spring being released...because the best action I ever saw in movies or anywhere else always had to do with release...I would try to create situations where I would repress the audience, then release them, and try to control and develop action to suit that."

Gil's choice of layouts is interesting too. He very deliberately avoided differently sized & shaped panels, preferring to see each one as a movie screen, and moving the 'camera' around within them: " The shape of the panel wasn't going to create the drama on the page. It was the narrative, and the panels were going to be storyboards. I saw it as a movie... and it's only the dynamics on the screen that make the moment intimate or give you creative longshots. "

It is to some extent, a movie in comic form: " That's why the violence I used is orchestrated. Somebody would fire a shot through glass, there would be a bullet hole through the glass, you'd see a man clutch himself on the other side of the window, then fall forward through the window. I tried to be cinematic. "

But His Name Is...Savage! isn't perfect; a lot of times, the reader is tripping over the narration to get to the next panel, and sometimes the caption's are actually completely redundant, but Savage is a truly great character, and Gil is on top form, as he always was, in fact.

Savage only ever had one more adventure, a four page silent strip for Anything Goes! And that was it for the hardest bastard in the spy business, who now resides in comic book limbo with The Destructor and Herbie The Fat Fury. He's out there somewhere though, just waiting for a chance to kick more ass. To close, here's what would've been the covers to the 2nd & 3rd issues.

You can, by the way, read the Anything Goes! strip over at Joe Bloke's excellent Kane fan-blog His Name Is... Just a short virtual car chase & fist fight away from here.


  1. I've got a magazine edition with the 'Lee Marvin' green cover. I think it was my first 'adult' comic. Thinking about the Lee Marvin likeness, has it been recorded that there was an influence from Boorman's Point Blank or am I totally making that up?
    The fantagraphics cover is pure Kane isn't it: that figure flying back into the viewer - very typical. Masterful panels

  2. If memory serves, Gil said in an interview somewhere that the initial look came from Marvin in Point Blank, but he was quick to say that didn't mean Savage WAS Lee Marvin, if that makes sense. Joe at His Name Is... might know more!

  3. no more than your good self there, pete. it's pretty much red that Savage was modelled after Lee Marvin's Walker, but I'm sure that's all there was to it. wonder if Lee ever read it?